Jeanette Wall talks about what she finds most important in music criticism.
I’m interested in your experiences listening to the The Cranberries—I want to know about when you were listening to “Dreams” with the windows down the first time you drove a car, when you played “How” on repeat when your last boyfriend who you really loved broke your heart in a million pieces, when you were sitting in the hospital waiting room and “When You’re Gone” came on your iPod. I don’t know why I want to know about these things, exactly. Probably the same reason we thumb through tabloids when we stand in line at the super market, or why we read memoirs by the ex-wives of famous rock stars, or why we like Miranda July films so much. Something about the shared human experience. Something about how powerful music can be.
When you think about music criticism, it’s easy to consider album reviews as standard fare. I will occasionally browse through what NPR or Paste or what one of my lovable blogger pals has to say about a record. However, I think it’s so much more important to read about someone’s personal experience with music. There’s a chapter in one of Chuck Klosterman’s books, I believe it’s in Fargo Rock City, where he talks about reviewing an album one day right after your girlfriend broke up with you versus reviewing an album one day that your girlfriend didn’t break up with you. Klosterman went on to muse that, dollars to donuts, the review one writes is going to be significantly more negative after your heart was systematically torn from your chest.
I’d rather read what a reviewer has to say about how he related to or interacted with certain music post-break up. When my first boyfriend broke up with me, I sprawled on the floor in the middle of my bedroom listening to select tracks from the Garden State soundtrack (namely Colin Hay, to be entirely honest). Unquestionably, I find that’s far more interesting than the 400-word review I wrote on the soundtrack for my high school’s newspaper. It’s those candid moments that derive from an artist writing a song or a listener connecting with music that is so essential to writing about music.
When I think about the Cranberries, I think about the song “Linger.” It’s such a sweet and lovely song. However, it seems shallow to reduce to only what one hears musically in four and a half minutes. Somehow, that song captures a feeling perfectly, those moments when you are torn between the unadulterated bliss of a new romance and the panging certainty that this love was doomed the moment it began. Dolores O’Riordan is singing about something simultaneously universal and extremely personal. Picking and prodding at those microcosmic reasons that this song is so universal that make writing about this song important, the slow dances, the quiet glances, the moments spent lying awake at night wondering how long you feel this way about a person before it actually starts to kill you. All I’m saying is, fellow music lovers, never lose sight of the reasons we write about and read about music.
The reason is that we all cry to the Cranberries.